The Stigma of Solo Travel

September 24, 2016

I love to travel, as this blog and my photo albums can attest. However, much of my travel for the last decade has been as an individual, neither part of a group, a couple, with friends, nor with family. And it’s been AWESOME!

To be clear, I’m not referring to business travel, but solo leisure travel; vacations, holiday, long weekends, etc. While I’d taken a couple of long weekends previously, it was my incredibly last minute Alaskan cruise in 2009 that really made me comfortable going it alone.

I’m by no means the first to travel alone, but I often do. Not because I don’t like trips with friends or family, but my capacity, commitments, and availability is different. Whether costs, paid time off, or the simple desire to see the world, I haven’t let traveling alone limit my adventures.

In fact, it was my last adventure to Atlanta that got me thinking, “Why is it odd to travel alone?”

Most of my friends and family know if I find a great deal to an amazing destination and can make it work around my career – and even recently school – I’ll jump all over it. It’s who I am. It’s my nature.

That hasn’t stopped them from asking almost EVERY time, “Who are you going with?” When I respond with, “Just me,” or “By myself,” I’m usually met with a sort of surprise, shock, or even a, “How is that even possible?”

I get it. We’re a social people. We find value in connections with others. And that’s not to say I don’t enjoy trips with friends and family. The simple fact is, I prefer to venture into the world more often than they do, sometimes by myself, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

Solo travelers are rarely alone
Sure, you could lock yourself in a hotel room during your trip after a car ride by yourself avoiding everyone. But most travels include planes, trains, restaurants, staff, and even other solo travelers.

It’s rare for me not to have a conversation with someone everywhere I visit on a trip, and often I’m not the one starting the dialogue. We tend to be more “open” to what’s around us and willing to “share” that moment, either at a monument, concert, stuck in a queue line in the hot sun. Whatever the shared element may be, it can lead to a laugh, a smile, and comradery.

Traveling alone does not mean lonely travels.

It’s easier. It just is.
Until you’ve taken a vacation by yourself, this can seem hard to believe. The fact is, when I travel alone I only have to be primarily concerned with, “me.”

When it’s just me, getting through the airport, ensuring I have all “my” bags, paperwork, documents, etc. is just easierwhen it’s only myself.

Also, what you soon learn is you do whatever you want, or don’t want to do, anytime. By this I mean, you eat when you want, where you want, what you want, without discussion, debates, or compromises from others in your group.

I experienced both sides of this dynamic on my trip to China in 2013. I had booked the trip as a solo guest with Gate 1 Travel. Our group of 21 included 12 solo passengers, with many of us choosing various optional day tours. My first two days in Beijing, I did the recommended tours. During the second tour, I struck up a conversation with one of the other solo travelers – who has become a friend and also enjoys both types of travel – and we decided with similar itineraries the next day, we’d venture off together. He had gone it alone on the first day and knew how to get to the subway, which helped me tremendously.

We spent about half of our day touring together, and then ventured off separately for the second half of the day. We continued to “join forces,” as it were, where it made sense. However, while in Shanghai, it became obvious because of time and travel, we each gave up on something we had wanted to do, but I’m not sure we would have if we’d been touring separately.

It’s hard to describe, but there’s a certain amount of “caring” for each other when we’re in groups. This is a great thing, but it can have unconscious compromises or consequences. We both had a great time, but both missed attractions we would have liked to have seen.

We pay more. It stinks, but it’s true
The travel industry is almost entirely based on “double occupancy” travel. There are exceptions, of course. Airfare, train tickets, ticketed activities, etc. are generally the same price for solo guests or two people traveling together. Group travel (10+) is another dynamic that can create low pricing. However, most advertised pricing almost always assumes two people traveling in a hotel room, a cruise cabin, private transportation, and sometimes even meals.

While there are travel agencies and blogs that cater to a growing niche of single, independent travelers, solo travel isn’t a new industry, but it has expanded slowly.

If you’ve ever read the term, “solo supplement,” it’s like a tax (no, not really a tax) for those who want the advertised price, but want to travel alone. It’s usually the cost of the second person who’d be in the room of any vacation package. It also means it can vary from $0 to double the advertised price. China was $150 for the 10 days. Not too shabby.

Therefore, per person, we generally pay more for our experiences.

For this reason, I tend to purchase my airfare and hotels separately if I’m going solo. I can usually find separate airfare that meets my travel itinerary needs and my budget, independent of the amenities I need from a hotel … which by the way are clean bed, decent Wi-Fi, hot shower, and a working lock on door. I’m not too picky.

Again, think of that cab from the airport into the city. If it’s two of you, $50 seems like a deal at $25 ea., or even better if you’re three. However, a $50 taxi for one person feels expensive. I’ll opt for cheaper public transportation every time it’s feasible.

I don’t want your pity
Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t “wish you could go,” along for the fun. Don’t make it seem like we’re weird or dysfunctional.

I get two types of people who hear about my upcoming solo adventures.

The first are those that couldn’t imaginetraveling alone and think it’s odd, weird, or dangerous. Maybe it is all three. I would disagree and for the most part, find these individuals don’t have my desire to see the world. That’s completely okay, but I’m not one of them.

The second are generally those that respond with a desire or interest to join the adventure. It can come with, “Why didn’t you tell me you were going … I would have joined you?” or, “That sounds like so much fun, I wish I could go.” Both are kind of funny to me. I love my friends and family. I do. Life is all about what YOU make of it, so if you really wanted to go, you can. However, whenever I invite friends or family to join in on the fun, 99 times out of 100 it’s resulted in some polite pass. That’s cool. It’s not going to stop me.

Again, part of me likes the independent adventure. I’ve made lifelong friends. Seen amazing parts of the world. And, yes, when I’m experiencing these once-in-a-lifetime moments, I sometimes want a partner in fun. But then I remind myself that if I waited for everyone else’s calendar to be available, have the money, time off from work or commitments, I may have never left my town.

It’s this last one that probably creates the stigma, weirdness, peculiarity of solo travel

We’re good. Trust us. You should tag along venture out and join the fun!

Last year, I created a blog for a class titled, “15 places I want to see before I die.” With our without a travel companion, I know I will.

Explore your surroundings and the rest of the world. Life is short. Experience it.

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Adventure, Fun Times, Solo Travel, Travel, Vacation,